Opinion: Soil Testing Needs Sensors To Get More Accurate

We are entering a very exciting time in agriculture. With so many great software platforms and data collection tools we are on the cusp of unlocking some really deep, profound information and management techniques like we’ve only dreamed of before. Being able to stack several layers of data on top of each other begins to tell an interesting story at angles that we weren’t able to look at until now. This is great stuff and is really interesting until we realize one huge, uncomfortable truth about the very foundation of our data: our soil tests really aren’t all that accurate.

Don’t get me wrong, the test results we get from soil labs generally get us to a place where we can determine a fertilizer application rate that nets us a return on our investment and at this point in time soil sampling is one of the best investments you can make on your farm. However, there are several areas where we could be doing much better.

The truth is that soil testing needs to go to sensors. If there is some venture capital still laying around somewhere that wasn’t burnt up by building all of these startup companies that try desperately to create a knockoff of Climate, please use it to invest in a sensor-based soil testing program. Seriously, it can only improve what we have been doing through the lab. We’d drastically reduce turnaround time and drastically increase the sampling frequency from once every 4 years to once a year. In science, isn’t a larger, more frequent data set preferable to a smaller and less frequent one with all other variables remaining the same? Now labs are getting better at turn around time and they do a really good job of executing the procedures and methods that we currently have in place, even if many of these procedures are 70+ years old.

However if you look closely, these methods of measuring nutrients can leave a lot to be desired in the accuracy department, which in turn can create a lot of “How the heck do I answer this?” type of questions when your soil tests come back from the lab. A really skilled soil scientist can help you navigate many issues that can baffle even really good agronomists, but there are some issues that still stump those soil scientists. One flaw may be in the fact that our current system relies on point samples and in many places, the soil is much more complex than what can be captured in that system. And let’s face it, you are only as good as the data you collect and are able to utilize.

Precision Planting is on the right track with putting sensors on seed firmers. Testing the soil right in the row and on every row? Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. I do question the effectiveness of the measurements at just the seeding depth, which is a far cry from the 6-7” that our land grant university recs are made from, but it’s a step in the right direction and maybe those university recommendations need to be updated to new technology as well. The Veris machine also shows promise and seems to be a great option for my counterparts out east who can’t always get deep enough soil samples in rocky soils. But how well does the system scale in the Midwest?

I invite you to join me in the quest to bring soil testing to the field and improve the accuracy of the several decades old soil testing procedures. We can only build as high as our foundation is strong, and in agriculture that begins with a thorough understanding of the soil.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “Opinion: Soil Testing Needs Sensors To Get More Accurate

  1. The current soil test results are accurate representations of the samples. Are the samples representative of the paddock/site in question

  2. Trimble’s 3 D Soil Information System uses 5 layers of collected information and intelligent targeting software to understand soil physical and chemical properties down to 1200mm. This data can be collected on 2.5,5 and 10M resolutions giving unprecedented spatially correct information about soil variation in both surface and sub-surface horizons.

Data Management Stories
Texas-and-Oklahoma-Panhandles-Google-Earth
Data ManagementAgriculture Impacts Weather: The Case for Connected Ecosystems
February 15, 2018
It’s fascinating to see how modern technology has helped us increase our agricultural productivity in areas not otherwise suited for Read More
Norris planter
Data ManagementBig Data is a Chicken-or-Egg Scenario on the Farm
February 1, 2018
According to McKinsey, the agricultural sector is the least digitized industry in the U.S., writes Tony Baer on ZDNet.com. Yet, Read More
Business Management2018 Retail Precision Ag Programs: At-A-Glance
February 1, 2018
Deep in the midst off December downtime, we reached out to three retailers well-versed in running a grower-facing precision ag Read More
Data ManagementClimate Corp. Announces CNH Data Sharing Partnership
February 1, 2018
CNH Industrial and The Climate Corporation announced today a new partnership that will extend and develop a portfolio of data Read More
Trending Articles
India-Farm-Irrigation
AsiaCloud-based Irrigation Could Double India’s Crop Yield and Halve Water Use
February 12, 2018
A cloud-based, micro-irrigation system tested on a farm in India has cut water use by up to 80%  and doubled Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentAutonomous Tractors Could Work in Wetter Conditions than Traditional Tractors
February 8, 2018
March 20th is the first day of spring, making spring much closer than even I expected. On the farm I Read More
AmericasPrecision Farming Companies to Watch in 2018 (OPINION)
January 17, 2018
My friends, as many of you told me repeatedly throughout the last 12 months, 2017 was an interesting year in Read More
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Latest News
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Industry NewsUnderstory Patents Solid State Weather Sensor
February 16, 2018
Understory today announced that it received a patent for its mechanical strain-based weather sensor, a key component in its weather Read More
Retailer Grower
Business ManagementAgriculture and Technology: Industry Progress Lies in C…
February 16, 2018
Water is essential for agriculture. While this may seem obvious, nowhere is it more apparent than the Sonoran Desert of Read More
Agtegra_SDSU
Industry NewsAgtegra Cooperative Pledges $500,000 to SDSU Precision …
February 15, 2018
Agtegra Cooperative, Aberdeen, SD, today in Pierre announced a $500,000 donation to South Dakota State University for the Precision Agriculture Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
Business ManagementThe Importance of Teamwork for Successful Precision Ag …
February 15, 2018
Interdependency is defined as the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other. I’m not a huge sports Read More
Texas-and-Oklahoma-Panhandles-Google-Earth
Data ManagementAgriculture Impacts Weather: The Case for Connected Eco…
February 15, 2018
It’s fascinating to see how modern technology has helped us increase our agricultural productivity in areas not otherwise suited for Read More
Adapt-N VRT
Decision Support SoftwareDTN Partners with Adapt-N to Provide Weather and Nitrog…
February 14, 2018
DTN has announced a partnership today at the National Farm Machinery Show with Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC), a Yara International Read More
Corn close up
Imagery/SensingSyngenta Acquires Satellite Imagery Provider FarmShots
February 14, 2018
Syngenta has acquired FarmShots, Inc., a North Carolina-based innovator of high-resolution satellite imagery that detects plant health by analyzing absorbed Read More
Pexels-Agriculture_Fields_Tractor_Precision_AG
Tools & Smart EquipmentMachine Learning: The Secret Sauce of Precision Agricul…
February 13, 2018
With the development of agricultural technologies, crop and plant diseases have been advancing as well, causing degradation of both quality Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
Africa/Middle EastFarmers Edge Aligns with PartnerRE to Streamline Crop I…
February 13, 2018
Today Winnipeg-based FMIS giant Farmers Edge announced a partnership around crop insurance with Zurich-based PartnerRE. Although a bit short on Read More
Robotics Specialty Crops
AmericasHortau, Agrian Announce Strategic Partnership
February 12, 2018
Hortau today announced a strategic partnership with Agrian Inc. to deliver an expansive precision irrigation service for commercial agriculture. “With Read More
India-Farm-Irrigation
AsiaCloud-based Irrigation Could Double India’s Crop Yield …
February 12, 2018
A cloud-based, micro-irrigation system tested on a farm in India has cut water use by up to 80%  and doubled Read More
Forbes Mixing Bowl NYC
EventsInnovative Forum Geared to Let Food, Farming, and Tech …
February 9, 2018
Industry innovators in agriculture, food, and information technology are set to mix it up again at this year’s Forbes Mixing Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentAutonomous Tractors Could Work in Wetter Conditions tha…
February 8, 2018
March 20th is the first day of spring, making spring much closer than even I expected. On the farm I Read More
corn weather
Industry NewsSciFi in Ag: Stanford Cooling Project Could Drive Energ…
February 7, 2018
(Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Industry NewsAgGateway Debuts ADAPT ISO Plugin Version 2.0
February 6, 2018
AgGateway’s ADAPT Framework, which is designed to make it easy for various hardware and software systems that growers use in Read More
Roger-DuMond-and-Brandon-Butz-Kova-Fertilizer
Systems ManagementThere’s No Easy Button For Value in Variable-Rate Nutri…
February 6, 2018
Roger Dumond has weathered the ups and downs of precision agriculture programs as much as anybody who’s been riding that Read More
Farmer-Soybean-field
Business ManagementFeel Something is Missing in Precision Agriculture? Ans…
February 5, 2018
I’ve seen a lot of ideas and met a lot of people in the agtech world. There have been great Read More
HomeSST Software to be Acquired by Proagrica
February 5, 2018
UPDATED 2.5.18, 2:10 PM Proagrica has signed an agreement to acquire 100% of SST Software, including Raven’s ownership stake. Based Read More